Grief Tourism

Travel to areas affected by natural disasters, places where people were murdered, etc.

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

The Transition of Angola From Plantation Slavery to Prison Confinement

14th August 2012

We hear and read about the misery and grief within maximum security prisons in other countries and often find it hard to believe that such torture, abuse, and inhumane living conditions really do exist. Yet, we don’t have to look too far or explore the rest of the world to realize that the U.S. has its share of darkness, as well.

Sometimes referred to as the “Alcatraz of the South,” Angola was one of four plantations, a total 18,000 acres owned by wealthy slave trader Isaac Franklin and sold by his widow in the late 1800′s. Opening in 1901, the Angola prison plantation name was changed to Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP), removing its identification with the country in Africa and the stigma of an ugly past of black slavery. Surrounded by the Mississippi River on three sides, LSP at the foot of the Tunica Hills is the largest maximum security prison in the U.S. with more than 5,000 inmates, 1,800 staff members, an execution chamber which once stored the state’s electric chair “Gruesome Gertie,” and death row cells for any man awaiting execution in Louisiana. Solitary confinement here is actually divided into three levels – extended lockdown, a special unit called Camp J, and the “dungeon” or simply the “hole,” politely referred to by prison officials as administrative segregation. Robert King served 29 years in solitary, although insisting he was innocent of the crime. Now free, he has filmed a documentary Land of the Free describing the unspeakable horrors he witnessed at Angola.

The name may have changed, but conditions remained intolerable well into the 1930′s until numerous, horrifying incidents of murder, riots, rebellion, and vicious brutality reached the media and led to reports by former inmates, public officials, and journalists – even the ABA became involved in the desperate need for prison reform. Stephen King’s book and movie, the Green Mile, were based in part on death row conditions in the ‘30′s, and Dead Man Walking was partially filmed here.

Visitors will see evidence of prison reform and dramatic changes in the conditions and environment of the once notorious Angola prison. The penitentiary today more closely resembles a plantation “Farm” where crops are cultivated by inmates, technically not slaves, cattle graze, and every effort is made toward self-sufficiency with a sugar mill, dairy, and several manufacturing facilities. Prison guards on horseback act as overseers of the work being done, often by inmates from other prisons, as Angola’s population is aging and unable to work in the fields. Named for the red paint on the straw hats of field workers, the Red Hat cell block housing the worse incorrigibles was closed until June 2012 when it reopened for viewing as a national historic site. Most inmates live in dormitories rather than separate cells according to the level of security required. Some of these are minimum custody units for prisoners who have earned trustee status through good behavior. Recreational facilities are provided including exercise yards, a gym, a lake and park where trustees and prisoners with no major discipline issues can fish, picnic, and barbeque, as well as the only prison nature preserve in the U.S.

There are several chapels on the property, and Warden Cain is very much involved with religious services at the prison and in the community. Once a year Angola sponsors the Returning Hearts celebration with carnival rides, basketball, food, and quality time for fathers to reconnect with their children for eight hours. Malachi Dads is a separate program, currently about 119 men, which offers a year long training session in parenting skills with emphasis on the teachings of the Bible. Adult education and vocational classes are offered, along with degrees in Ministry for a select few, although most inmates are serving life without parole and will have no opportunity to use these skills on the outside. Angola has always encouraged music and many songs and folklore of the plantation era have been written and performed by legendary musicians such as the Lomax brothers. Several others actually served time at Angola (many received pardons) including Leadbelly, Freddy Fender, the Neville brothers, and ex-con and famous blues musician Robert Pete Williams.

The main event at LSP is the annual prison rodeo which began in 1965 as an open arena established primarily to entertain prisoners and staff. Now, it is a full-scale tourist attraction with covered grandstands, thousands of spectators, and prison bands. Rodeo events include barrel racing, bull riding, wild horses, convict poker, and other unusual challenges. Angola has brought in even more fans since the rodeo at Huntsville, TX closed in 1986 and the arena demolished this year. An all-day Arts & Crafts festival with vendors, food, and entertainment adds to this event. Visitors spend a carefree day knowing they are free to return home after the fun is over. Very few gain any understanding of the prison and its inmate population, and have little interest in learning about the unknown, having never experienced prison life.
Dates: Every Sunday in October, Festival 9am – 5pm, Rodeo at 2pm. Tickets: $15. Inmate hobby crafts for sale.

Established in 1995 by Warden Bull Cain, the LSP museum has preserved much of the history of Angola obtained from inmates, officials, and historians.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 8am-4:30pm, Sat, 9am-5pm, Sun, 1pm-5pm. Closed New Years, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and July 4. Admission: Free, donations welcome. Gift shop onsite.

Yet, even with improvements and reform, the casual tourist or curiosity seeker may still sense the grief and sadness of confinement, the cries for help and compassion that never came, but still linger in shadowy corners of these prison walls. A memorial at the prison cemetery stands alone for the Unknown Prisoners, those poor, nameless souls who had no one to care whether they lived or died.

Getting there: Located 22 miles northwest of St Francisville, LA, 20 miles from Centreville, MS, approximately 50 miles from Baton Rouge.

(Note: Some years the Mississippi River will rise and flooding in the area can be a real problem.)

Sharon L Slayton

Posted in America, Prison Tourism | No Comments »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Description of a sky burial

26th June 2012

If memory serves, our first post on this site was an article by Sharon Slayton about Thanatourism and sky burials in Tibet.

Recently I came across a description of a sky burial by Chinese author, Ma Jian, as cited by Troy Parfitt in Why China Will Never Rule the World.

Be warned – this is graphic:

The younger brother hacked off a chunk of thigh and sliced it into pieces. Her right leg was soon reduced to bone. With her belly squashed to the ground, sticky fluid began to trickle from between her thighs. The vultures surrounded us and fought over the scraps of flesh. A pack of crows landed behind them. I picked up the axe, grabbed a severed hand, ran the blade down the palm and threw a thumb to the vultures. The younger brother smiled, took the hand from me and placed it on a rock, then pounded the remaining four fingers flat and threw them to the birds. The crows had now joined the vultures… and were picking at the roast barley that had been mashed up with scraps of brain.

Posted in Thanatourism, Tibet | No Comments »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Gettysburg National Military Park – Preservation of Sacred Ground

3rd June 2012

The Gettysburg battlefields had little significance as a tourist attraction, visited primarily by relatives of the Union soldiers, until Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in November 1863 and the dedication of the National Soldiers Cemetery honoring the Union. It took seven more years to bring the Confederate soldiers killed on the battlefield to the Cemetery.

Tourists began to arrive on day trips, followed by weekend excursions, and extended vacations. The automobile made travel easier, along with a trolley line from town followed by an extension of railway service, for many more visitors. By 1884, Gettysburg had become a major historic site for an average 150,000 visitors a year, vigorously advertised and commercialized by the media to attract the crowds. People had money to spend and needed places to stay and eat, so hotels, restaurants, and shops were built for the tourist trade. Small amusement areas for families were located at the end of the trolley line on Little Round Top (known as the Devil’s Den), and later as a stop on the old railway spur in 1884. Then came the inevitable request for some type of entertainment and excitement in the evenings after the park closed.

Fast forward. The Pennsylvania state gaming board was established in 2004, and casino licenses were few and in great demand. By 2006, the controversy over a casino on or anywhere near the Park had grown considerably with local conservationists and Civil War historians vehemently opposed, while those in favor supported the plan as adding to the economy of the town. The main promoter was local developer David LeVan who bid twice for the Mason Dixon Resort and Casino and Resort. LeVan’s partner, Joseph Lashinger was a former state representative and a member of the gaming industry who had considerable influence on the state legislature’s decision. The controversy became political when even the governor warned that the state would lose money and employees unless casino table games were legalized. Susan Paddock, head of the grass roots movement, pointed out that the proposed site less than half a mile away was too close to the battlefields and would degrade the meaning of the sacred ground. She also objected to the possibility of casino employees taking business away from the employees of the town’s local establishments, as well as discouraging visitors who were only interested in the historical and cultural value of the Park.

There was no need for a casino, as slots and the lottery were bringing in substantial revenue to the state. Yet, LeVan persisted in his efforts for the next three years to convert the Eisenhower Conference Center into a casino. More than 35,000 historians and researchers, film producers, and Pulitzer Prize winner James McPherson joined efforts, signed petitions, and wrote letters of protest to the gaming commission to keep the battlefields as sacred ground in honor of those who fought at Gettysburg. Another 16 groups including the Civil War Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and the American Legion also opposed the idea. Even the chairman of the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee protested against the casino as dishonoring one of their own who had fought at Gettysburg. Perhaps, they remembered the words of Colonel Chamberlain, hero of Little Round Top, “In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.”

In April 2011, the 6-year controversy was over when the Pennsylvania gaming commission rejected the idea, and awarded a casino license to the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in another part of the state. Today, there is no casino or other form of inappropriate entertainment on or near the sacred ground. Gamblers and the betting crowds will have to drive to Penn National Racetrack at Hershey Park, about 30 minutes away, to find the closest casino. In fact, there is a bill pending to establish a buffer zone to block casinos from opening within 10 miles of the boundaries of the Park. Gettysburg National Military Park has kept its place in history and not fallen victim to the commercialism of other historic sites. The majority of visitors are heritage tourists, which added $67 million to the economy in 2010.

Preservation by the National Park Service (NPS) since 1933 and the Gettysburg Foundation continues with the opening of a new Visitor Center and Museum and renovation of the David Wills House. Visitors can watch the film, A New Birth of Freedom, narrated by Morgan Freeman and view the Cyclorama, a huge painting by Paul Philippoteaux, restored and revealed to the public in 2008. Cycloramas were predecessors of motion pictures, popular in the late 1800′s where visitors stood on a central platform to view a 3-D effect from the surrounding painting. A statue of Lincoln stands in front of the David Wills House in downtown Gettysburg. The grand opening was celebrated on 12 Feb 2009 in honor of Lincoln’s 200th birthday. It features five galleries of artifacts and exhibits, two short films, and Lincoln’s bedroom where he spent the night and finished writing the famous Gettysburg Address.

Admissions:
Park – Free. Guided 2-hour tours, from $65 (up to six passengers), bus tours, from $30.
Museum & Visitor Center: Adults – $12.50, Seniors/Active Military – $8.50, Children 6-12, $5.50.
Wills House: Adults – $6.50, Seniors – $5.50, Children 6-12 – $4.00. Tours available.

Hours:
Park – 6am-10pm, 1 Apr-31 Oct. 6am-7pm, 1 Nov-31 Mar.
Museum – 8am-6pm, 1 Apr-31 Oct. 8am-5pm, 1 Nov-31 Mar
Wills House – Open on various days all year, usually from 9am-5pm.

Upcoming event, July 6-8, 2012, 149th Annual Gettysburg Civil War Battle Reenactment – Five Civil War battles will be featured.

Sharon L Slayton

See also: General Farnsworth mysteryGettysburg tourism

Posted in America, Battlefield Tourism | No Comments »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

The Colosseum in Rome = grief tourism?

28th November 2010

This article seems to lump it in with grief tourism because…

Despite the attitude that this is ancient history, Colosseums are the sites of mass deaths, religious persecution and displays of cruel power by those in authority who gave the thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate the fate of the participants.

When I went to Rome’s Colosseum it was more satisfy my fantasy geek – of course the words “grief tourism and dark tourism weren’t in use then…

Posted in Grief tourism in pop culture | No Comments »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Islands of Salvation: Diable, Royale, and St. Joseph

15th October 2009

Three islands, Diable, Royale, and St. Joseph, are collectively known as the Iles du Salut, an obvious misnomer for islands that offered no salvation or rehabilitation for prisoners. Located about 6 miles off the northern coast of French Guiana in the Caribbean Sea, all three once housed infamous prison settlements. Established in 1852 by Emperor Napoleon, the first prisoners were sent here from Brest, Toulon, and Rochefort, France. Over 80,000 criminals were imprisoned, and most died on these islands during the estimated 100 years that the prisons were in existence. The smallest and most notorious is Ile Diable, better known as Devil’s Island. Surrounded by rough currents and voracious sharks, it has often been compared to Alcatraz where escape by sea was almost impossible. In fact, tourists today can only view Ile Diable from the other islands, as rough waters prevent boats from landing on its shores. Occasionally, a fisherman can be paid well and convinced to make the trip, although the island is considered off limits.

The much larger Ile Royale housed prison guards, administrators, and the death row inmates. The entire complex included a hospital, meat market, bakery, church, and a small cemetery for children and wives of the guards. Few prisoners lived more than a short time in the dark and forbidding environment of harsh conditions, prevalent disease, hard labor, and severe punishment. Death by guillotine was the fate for many, and burial rites were non existent, as the dead were tossed to the hungry sharks circling the island. Five to eight year sentences were the minimum, and these were doubled, as prisoners had to serve an equal amount of time by remaining on French Guiana even after release. Many would never leave, as those with sentences over 8 years were forced to stay on French Guiana. The French government brought in the first 28 female prisoners in 1889, in hopes of their marrying released prisoners and thus adding to the population. This effort was eventually abandoned, and no other women were sent here after 1914.

The remote and isolated prison site, Camp Reclusion, on Ile St. Joseph was known as the Devourer of Men by prisoners placed there in solitary confinement, or locked away as criminally insane. Remnants of steel bars and chains used to secure prisoners to their beds lie scattered across the bare dirt floors of the cells. Today, Camp Reclusion is home for hundreds of monkeys, where towering coconut palms grow through the iron grates above the cells, mosquitoes and spiders thrive in the damp and humid jungle air, and vines cling to empty prison bars.

The prisons housed the worst incorrigibles, the thieves and murderers, but many were exiled from France for political reasons, the most noteworthy being Alfred Dreyfus. In 1894, Captain Dreyfus was convicted on false charges of treason and sentenced to life in prison in the Green Hell of Devil’s Island. He spent 5 years of a miserable, lonely existence in a 13-foot, one-man cell, with only a bench to sit upon and wait for freedom from across the sea. The Dreyfus Affair is well known in history for the unparalleled political, religious, and moral controversies that occurred, goaded by the media and divided public opinion – support of Alfred Dreyfus was well presented in Zola’s “J’accuse” in 1898. Eventually pardoned by former President Loubet and completely exonerated of these crimes in 1906, he was reinstated to major and awarded the French Legion of Honor.

Although many prisoners tried and failed, we know of three inmates who managed to escape and live to tell their stories. Clement Duval, a political anarchist, was tried and sentenced to death in 1886. Although he served time in hard labor and contracted smallpox, he managed to escape from Devil’s Island in 1901. Duval spent the rest of his life in New York City, where he wrote about the evils of the prison in his book “Revolte.”

Henri Charrière has given us a fascinating tale of his 12 years on the Iles and his carefully planned escape from Devil’s Island. From a rocky inlet, he had determined that the current was strong enough in every 7th wave to carry someone to shore. Charrière and a fellow inmate floated for days on a crudely built raft of large bags filled with coconuts and eventually reached the mainland. Whether his memoir, “Papillon,” (French word for butterfly, the tattoo on Charrière’s chest) detailing his adventures is entirely factual has always been questionable, but it does provide interesting insight into his experiences and prison life. In fact, so intriguing is his narrative that the film on which it was based is still considered a classic and often compared to the “Shawshank Redemption.”

Much later, René Belbenoît was convicted of stealing a set of pearls in 1920 and sent to Devil’s Island to serve 8 years. His first attempt to escape in a canoe failed, when he was recaptured and sentenced to solitary confinement. Although he was able to spend a year as a gardener in Panama on a prison pass, he foolishly decided to return to France. Here, he was arrested again and returned to Ile St. Joseph. Finally released from prison in 1935, he fled from French Guiana and eventually made his way to Los Angeles. Belbenoît wrote two memoirs of his frightening experiences during those years, “Dry Guillotine” and “Hell On Trial.”

Fortunately, this incredible mass destruction of humanity and cruel punishment such as this ended when the prisons were eventually closed in 1946. Today, tourism has become the economic redemption for these islands. Ile Royale, a resort destination, is a picture perfect tropical paradise of abundant wildlife and lush vegetation where South America cruise ships dock regularly, airlines fly frequently, and tourists come to visit, relax, and explore. A museum of exhibits and history has been established in the old administrator’s house, but the religious murals by Francis Lagrange, former inmate convicted of counterfeiting, have almost completely disappeared from the walls of the small chapel. An interesting 2-hour guided tour (in French) of the island may be available which includes the abandoned prison buildings where monkeys chatter and play in the ruins, and the original lighthouse built in 1914, which is still in operation.

Hours: 10:30am – 4:30pm, Tues thru Sun. Admission: $6.00

For a much more realistic, but depressing visit to the grim past, there is no charge to wander through the rusted iron gates into the Crimson Barracks, so named for the blood shed as prisoners frequently attacked and killed each other. The old foundation of the guillotine remains a tragic reminder of the cruel executions that took place in front of the entire prison population. Beheadings were ordered often at the whim of the guards, and carried out by a fellow inmate. Once this so-called justice was done, proof of the executions was required, and the heads were carefully preserved in jars of alcohol and shipped back to France.

Accommodations: The inn (Auberge) on Ile Royale offers simple guest rooms for 60 Euros, rooms with terrace for 70, and hammock only for 10 Euros. Restaurant, gift shop, and bar onsite, and daily catamaran service to and from the islands and the mainland.

Transportation: Catamarans depart around 8am from Kourou, the main port on the mainland, and return around 4pm. Service on the 2-hour boat ride often includes rum punch and other amenities.

Popular boats: La Hulotte visits Ile Royale and St. Joseph and sails around Ile Diable, price $55 U.S. Royale Ti’Punch, owned by the inn (no extra charge for overnight stays), price $57 U.S. Sothis, ferry to Ile Royale, one-way $35. Tropic Alizés leaves from Kourou or Cayenne, price $55. (Cayenne, the capital, is a popular tourist city, with numerous hotels, restaurants, and shops.)

At certain times and dates, you may be able to view another popular tourist attraction while visiting these islands and French Guiana. The Guiana Space Centre has been in operation near Kourou since 1968 and serves as an excellent location for European, Russian, and commercial launches. Its proximity to the equator, as well as speed and maneuverability, provides an effective cost saving spaceport. Since this area encompasses the Iles du Salut, evacuation takes place during launch times. For visitors interested in seeing the actual launch, there are a limited number of viewing seats available in the spaceport itself. You must be 16 years or older to view the launch from a 4-mile distance, and at least 8 to view from a distance of 7 miles. Seats are free, but reservations are needed well in advance. There are no age or reservation requirements to view the launch from the beach at Kourou. The Guiana Space Centre averages 10 space launch missions each year.

Sharon L. Slayton

Posted in French Guiana, Prison Tourism | No Comments »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Drancy – The Tragedy, the Grief, & the Embarrassment

28th July 2009

We are all familiar with the Holocaust, known as the Shoah or the Hebrew word for calamity, and the unspeakable tragedies that occurred at concentration camps. Unfortunately, there were other places filled with sorrow and grief that served as temporary deportation stations; Drancy is one.

The Jews had lived quietly and unobtrusively in Paris up until the Vichy government replaced the Republic, and the systematic selection and categorization of Jews began. Created by the government of Philippe Pétain and controlled by the French police, anti-semitic propaganda circulated freely. Many of the French citizens were unduly influenced by the powerful Vichy regime, which persuaded them to accept Nazi control. As early as October 1940, a set of laws for the Jews in France to follow had already been established. In effect, they were required to register with the local police, and by doing so, virtually lost their rights as citizens of France. Jewish children over 6 years old were sent to school wearing the yellow six-pointed Star of David, as a mark of shame, to further identify and segregate them from the rest of the populace.

By August 20, 1941, massive citywide raids were rounding up thousands of these so-called “undesirables, and housing soon became a problem. A convenient solution was to include the low cost public housing project, La Cité de la Muette in the suburb of Drancy located about 4 miles from the center of Paris. Although La Cité had not been fully developed, Drancy had been used as an internment camp as early as 1939, and it was easy to incorporate the partially constructed buildings of La Cité as temporary housing From a public holding place for criminals, the Roma people, and other outcasts of society, Drancy now became an interim detention center, a barbed wire, heavily guarded camp managed by the French police and SS Captain Dannecker. Full control of the camp was eventually turned over to Alois Brunner, the righthand man of Adolph Eichman, who served as the administrator from June 1943 until its liberation. (Brunner, a recognized Nazi war criminal, was responsible for sending over 140,000 Jews to the gas chambers.)

At times, over 4,000 Jews were crowded into an area designed for only 700 people, where they were treated like animals, subject to the most inhumane brutality and substandard living conditions with little food and water. Families were immediately separated, as long lines of women and men were loaded like cattle onto boxcars. While convoy after convoy of human freight left Drancy for Auschwitz, children starved and died, and those left behind awaited an unknown fate and despaired of ever seeing their relatives again. Some 40 prisoners, former members of the Resistance, failed in a desperate attempt to escape through a 115-foot tunnel they had dug, which was soon discovered by the Nazis. Of the 70,000 or more Jews who were brought here, it is estimated that only 2,000 managed to survive the nightmare of Drancy.
As Hitler’s megalomania raged on, so did mass genocide and the size and frequency of these raids. No Jew was exempt, and no distinction was made among the registered and non-registered, the commoner, or the prominent citizens of France such as Max Jacob, Tristan Bernard, and Rene Blum. By far, the most infamous of these raids was the Grande Rafle du Vel’ d’hiv when an estimated 13,000 Jews were rounded up on July 16 and 17, 1942, and herded into the Vélodrome, a large sports stadium. From here, they were further categorized and sent to Drancy and other detention camps.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Vel’ d’hiv was in the number of children who were taken before their lives had hardly begun. The age limit of 16 or over had been changed, and in less than three months’ time, 6,000 or more children of all ages were collected and eventually put to death. On occasion, a few young boys were handpicked from the camp and sent to schools and training as future Nazi soldiers. The notorious SS Lieutenant Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” sent over 300 young boys, ages 14 to 19, which he had taken from a children’s home, to Drancy and on to the gas chambers.

Fortunately, the insanity of Hitler’s “final solution” ultimately failed, but not before at least 25% of the Jewish population in France were virtually eliminated. Some years after the war had ended, only a few attempts were made by the French government to make amends and recover from the overwhelming embarrassment of this deplorable time in the eyes of the world. Even before WWII began, however, the French regime had offered refuge to those fleeing from Franco’s Fascist Spain, but then later turned them over to the Nazis for extermination. Although Petain and many others who were put on trial claimed no knowledge of these events and the persecution, it is hard to refute what history has told us.

In 1976, a Polish Jew Shlomo Selinger designed an interesting statue consisting of 3 large blocks to be erected on Charles-de-Gaulle Esplanade. There is considerable significance and reference to the Jewish religion and culture in the intricate details of his sculpture, including the letter Shen for Shaddai, the words used over doorways of Hebrew homes to signify God or the Guardian of Israel’s Doors. Ten figures in the center of the statue represent the gates of death, with 10 being the required number for religious prayer. Two more at the top form the letters for Lamed and Vad, which combined represent the Lamedvavniks, the 36 who save the world from destruction. Two sets of 7 steps, representing the degrees of Hell, lead to the “path of martyrs” and across the street to an old freight car that features an exhibition narrating the tragedy of deportation.

Years passed and still there was no apology from the French government until 1994 when former President Mitterand authorized the construction of a memorial to be sculpted by architect Azagury and Walter Spitzer, whose family had survived deportation. In a special tribute to Vel’ d’hiv, the statue features a sick man, a pregnant woman, and several children. The words on the monument are worth noting: “The French Republic in homage to victims of racist and anti-semitic persecutions and of crimes against humanity committed under the authority of the so-called ‘Government of the State of France’.” Since 1995 when Chirac formally acknowledged the guilt of the French police and others who collaborated with the Nazis during the Occupation, the president of France has held a ceremony here each year.

Visitors to the former camp at Drancy will find only a small area of public housing, as much of the Vélodrome was destroyed by fire in 1959, and what remained was demolished. In May 2001, the Minister of Culture, Catherine Tasca designated La Cité de la Muette as a national monument, which houses a small conservatory of documents, a few memorial plaques including one to Max Jacob, and three more collectively dedicated to 100,000 Jews and other French and British soldiers held at Drancy.

Further tributes to Holocaust victims in France can be seen in the Wall of Names, dedicated in 2005, which is located at the entrance of the Shoah Memorial in Paris. The stone wall is engraved with the names of 76,000 Jews who were deported to Nazi concentration camps from 1942 – 1944, and of these, over 11,000 were children. The Memorial serves as the Centre for Jewish Contemporary Documentation, and is dedicated to the Unknown Jewish Martyr, with a crypt in the basement that holds ashes of only a few who died in the death camps.

Within the Memorial, small family photographs and drawings made by the children are the saddest part, perhaps, of it all. These are the faces of children who were victims of terror and the tragedies of war, faced with the unimaginable loss of parents and family, and the horrors of punishment and death. Surrounded by circumstances beyond their control, many too young to understand, they lived in fear of what lay ahead. For the few who did manage to survive, their lives would never be the same.

Shoah Memorial, 17 rue Geoffrey l’Asnier, Paris
Hours: Sunday – Friday, 10am to 6pm; Thursday to 10pm. Closed Saturdays, national, and Jewish holidays – April 9 & 15, May 1 & 21, & July 14th.
Admission: Free
Guided Tours: Free on Sundays (in French), 3pm, second Sunday of the month (in English). Handicap accessible, book/coffee shop, underground parking nearby.

A visit to Drancy will remind us all that evil does exist in this world, and tragedies such as this can never be forgotten

Sharon L. Slayton

Posted in France, Holocaust Tourism | No Comments »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

6th November 2008

Here’s an article that starts off with one dark tourism expereince and then starts discussing different examples of dark tourism. 

Apparently there’s an attraction known as Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. It’s a bridge built during WWII where “13,000 PoWs, 80,000 Asian labourers and 1,000 Japanese and Korean guards died while working in the most appalling conditions imaginable.”

I have no idea why there would be Korean guards when Korea was occupied by Japan at the time. It seems like there would be a number of Koreans among the “Asian laborers” but I’m not too sure.

Posted in Thailand | No Comments »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Disaster at Sea – Wilhelm Gustloff

5th September 2008

Through the years, countless ships have been lost at sea, the Titanic being the most familiar and much later the Andrea Doria.  Yet, there were other lesser known, but even greater disasters that history would like to forget – the Wilhelm Gustloff is one.

The ill-fated ship had the dubious honor of being named after the leader of the Nazi party in Switzerland, who was assassinated by David Frankfurter, a Jewish medical student, in January 1936.  It was officially christened by Gustloff’s widow on May 5, 1937 in a flurry of Fascist cheers, flags, and salutes as Hitler and other party members watched from above.  This was the grandest ship of the Kdf “strength through joy” fleet of luxury cruise liners created for loyal Nazi followers to enjoy.  There was no class division among the passengers; all cabins had a view and were of equal size.

From its maiden voyage on March 24, 1938, to just before WWII, carefree vacationers from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland mingled freely with each other and the crew on cruises to the Mediterranean and the North Sea.  Cruise fares were reasonable and within the budget of most of the working class in keeping with Hitler’s false promises of a perfect world.  Free entertainment was provided; daily activities were structured, and Hitler’s propaganda circulated freely among the passengers who seldom went ashore.

Prior to the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, it was also used as a floating voting station for citizens of Austria and Germany, who were then living in England.  They were ferried 3 miles offshore to the ship, many unaware they were casting their vote in approval.  Other than transporting German troops from Spain after Franco’s victory in 1939, the Gustloff remained a pleasure ship carrying over 65,000 passengers on at least 50 different excursions.  The pleasure ended, however, with the final cruise in August 1939, when she was converted to a hospital ship in September 1939.  Serving a less humanitarian purpose during the war, it was camouflaged to house U-boat sailors in training.

At the end of WWII, on January 30, 1945, the Gustloff was put into service this time as a part of Operation Hannibal, a massive wartime relief effort.  Over 10,000 refugees, navy personnel, and the wounded, including an estimated 4,000 women and children, sought refuge on the ship from the advancing Soviet Red Army.  Although the Operation itself evacuated over two million people, the most successful wartime evacuation in history, the ones who made it to the Danzig port and the Wilhelm Gustloff were not so lucky.  Leaving many behind, the ship left port without ceremony heading for Kiel on the mainland of Germany.  Although thousands had escaped the atrocities of the Russian troops, none could know what lay ahead.

The ship and its crew were ill prepared for the mass of people that overflowed the decks and cabins below.  As the Gustloff made its way through sleet and snow, there was little protection from the weather or the enemy.  The ship was virtually alone on the Baltic Sea with only one small escort boat.  However, the U-boat detection equipment on the Lowe had frozen, and the boat was relying primarily on lookouts.  While anti-aircraft guns and the few lifeboats also remained frozen and inoperable on the deck of the Gustloff, the people suffered terribly in the packed quarters of a ship built to accommodate about 1800 passengers.

Some 9 hours later, disaster struck, as three torpedoes labeled For Leningrad, the Soviet people, and the Motherland were fired from an undetected Russian submarine.  After a direct hit on the ship‘s bow, the forward part of the ship was sealed off, and many of the crew were then unable to get to the lifeboats or carry out emergency procedures.  The lavish swimming pool amidships was now filled with floating bodies, broken metal, and flying tile.  After the 3rd and final torpedo destroyed the engine room, the Wilhelm Gustloff lost all power and communications.  The scene was one of total chaos, resembling the panic of the Titanic on a much larger scale.  Only a very few were rescued, as over 9,000 lives were lost in the sinking of the Gustloff, by far the greatest number in a single disaster at sea.  A journey that promised safety had ended in indescribable tragedy.

A second refugee ship, the General Steuben, was also hit on the same mission carried out by the Russian submarine commander Marinesko and his crew, raising the total lives lost to over 10,000.  Ironically, Marinesko was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union by Gorbachev in 1990, officially giving him credit for supposedly destroying German armed forces, but neglecting to mention the loss of innocent refugees and their families.

Unlike the Titanic, the shipwreck’s position in relatively shallow water was accurately recorded, so there is little mystery involved.  The Polish government retains control over this designated area, but there are few visitors or memorials to such a burial site.  A team of Polish divers, headed by Mike Boring, explored the shipwreck in May 2003 on a salvage expedition.  No evidence was found of a so-called Amber Room, or a secret treasure worth over $350 million stolen during the war years.  It is possible that some, if not all, the loot was recovered by the Russians soon after their deadly mission was accomplished.

(Notes:  The ship’s purser, Heinz Schon, one of the few survivors, has written numerous books and is considered the leading expert as manager of the Gustloff archives in Germany.)

(David Frankfurter was later pardoned, released from exile, and managed to live out the rest of his life in Israel.)

(The wreck is a war memorial and her location is disguised by Polish navigational charts that register her only as Obstacle No 73 – 180 feet deep in the Baltic. However, she is easy to find and most of the diving clubs between Gdansk and Kolobrzeg offer trips to the wreck.)(In Germany, the Wilhelm Gustloff has become a focus for war remembrance. Germans are lobbying to build a museum or a shrine on the Polish coast to mark the 60th anniversary of the disaster, on January 30.)
Sharon Slayton

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For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Ghost tourism in Scotland

7th November 2007

Here’s an article describing some ghost tourism in Scotland. This is actually the 5th page of a mini-series but it talks about a haunted room in Drovers Inn (in Inverarnan). You can also download a podcast of an interview with the author from this page.

You can find more on ghost hunting vacations here and here.

Posted in Ghost Tourism, Scotland | 1 Comment »

For worldwide travel plans and vacation ideas, check out my travel blog. We have itineraries for many different travel experiences.

Cambodia’s killing fields memorial and land mine museum expereince

3rd June 2007

This blog entry has an interesting story and some chilling pictures of two grief tourism related sites in Cambodia, “Wat Mai” the Killing Field Memorial and the Aki Ra Landmine Museum. He visited the Killing Fields after seeing Angkor Watt, so tourists can work this into their Cambodian vacation plan. The official Cambodian tourism site should help you with those travel itineraries.

Bill Morse is someone who is very involved in Cambodian tourism and organizes visits to the Aki Ra Landmine Museum as part of his Mekong River Cruise. He has also been involved in removing landmines in Cambodia (some vacation).

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